When he first sat down to watch the Food Network competition Chopped with his two young daughters, little did born-and-raised Santa Barbaran Lee Abbott know that he’d soon be on the other side of the screen, racing against time to prepare a meal. “Daddy, you can win that,” said one daughter, who quickly found a casting call on the Food Network website for another show called All-Star Academy. “Kind of because my daughter called me out, I had to do it, and I got lucky,” Abbott said.
It was fitting for the family-loving Abbott, then, that his debut on the second season’s premiere last Sunday featured lunch-box ingredients. “I focused on my kids, my family, my friends,” said the television producer and lifelong foodie, who earned his chef chops by entertaining at home and calls his cooking Santa Barbara–style cuisine. “Santa Barbara style to me is ranch and sea,” said Abbott, the seventh generation of a farming family. “Farm-to-table was happening here before it was a phrase.” He also blends the “great collage” of Mediterranean and Mexican influences, citing “vibrant, zesty, big flavors.”
Though he has worked on the red carpet floors of the Oscars and the Golden Globes behind the camera, he found himself “star-struck” in the presence of TV chefs. The competition itself was “even crazier and more intense” than he anticipated.
He will presumably shine in this week’s second episode on regional cuisine, but for Abbott, the prize has already been won. “When I saw the mentors and the cameras, right then, I said, ‘My kids just saw me on Food Network,’ and it was a really emotional moment,” he said. “From that moment on, it was gravy. That was the victory right there.”
Catch the next episode of All-Star Academy on Food Network on Sunday at 9 p.m.